Jacksonville School District 117’s Superintendent is responding to the mixed reactions and questions from the public regarding the decision to place an alternative school on the downtown square.
District 117 board members unanimously approved a five-year lease agreement, at $35-hundred a month, for the one-story building at 30 North Central Park Plaza during Wednesday’s board meeting.
After posting the alternative school story on the WLDS-WEAI Facebook page Thursday, more than a dozen individuals questioned why the former Franklin Elementary building, which had been previously considered by the district, was not selected.
Franklin was most recently used by 8 Points Charter School. The District 117 school board voted to sever ties with the charter program this year.
8 Points Charter School Board President Larry Meece was one of those comments on our Facebook page. Meece stated, “There are many in Jacksonville who view this new ‘alternative’ program as a poor educational plan for students with high social and emotional support needs. I have severe doubts about placing K-8 or K-12 students in the same small building. The building itself is far from ideal.”
Superintendent Steve Ptacek told us many locations were considered, but the downtown square building was the best fit for the school’s behavioral needs.
“We’re better serving our tax payers from our responsibility by this location than any other location we looked at in the community. We can’t have these behaviors continue at the schools and create an unsafe environment. This issue is not about the closing of Franklin or the charter school . Even if they were currently active, we would be looking at alternative programs for categories of students that we have no way to serve,” Ptacek says.
Jacksonville Main Street Executive Director Judy Tighe was excited to hear the alternative school was heading to the downtown square. Tighe says the alternative school shouldn’t cause any unmanageable parking or traffic concerns on the square.
“There is only going to be one bus picking up and dropping off and a limited amount of students. Employees have designated parking on the north side of the building, so that isn’t going to be an added burden. Anyone that is affiliated with the building, that is there for more than two hours, is encouraged to park in the city parking lot. They sound like they are going to be good neighbors and willing to work with everyone,” says Tighe.
Fifth through eighth grade students with behavioral issues or non-disability-related Individual Educational Programs will attend the alternative school.
Ptacek says District 117 doesn’t have a location to cater either of those needs and new legislation, like Senate Bill 100, which will go into effect next fall, is putting limitations on a district’s ability to suspend a student beyond three days without providing services.
The alternative school could be a possible placement for students who bring “look-alike weapons, prescription drugs” or other dangerous items to school.
“In those situations where we felt the safety of the school was in jeopardy, because of the students actions, we could go through the expulsion process. Then instead of expulsion, we could place them in the alternative school for an extended period of time. That could be the remainder of the school year or the following school year. Hopefully, with our supports teaching them something about life choices, adaptation and leadership, they can come back to their home school and have a much more productive remaining school year. We could also use this as a short term placement to make interventions,” says Ptacek.
At this point, students at Jacksonville’s Lafayette Academy will not be joining District 117’s alternative school, because those students don’t have an IEP curriculum and are in ninth through twelfth grade.
District 117 hasn’t assigned any students to the alternative school for the upcoming school year. Ptacek says the school can accommodate up to 30 students. He estimates that 15-20 students, ten on a permanent basis, would have attended the alternative school this past year.
The alternative school staff will consist of one principal, two regular education teachers, two paraprofessionals and a special education position.
The additional rooms in building could potentially be used as offices for school psychologists, social workers and speech language pathologists. According to Ptacek, having a space those individuals could work would maximize the time spent with students.